Burlesque On Ice was billed as “a spectacular show … set to be one of the hottest tickets in London”, but in reality it failed to deliver at a sufficiently high standard in a number of key areas. A production which was meant to be uplifting, exhilarating and infectious was largely lost in translation and execution.
The thin, sporadically referenced plot of Burlesque On Ice is based around frustrated ice skater Hollie Deller. Egged on by ‘Fairy Godmother of Burlesque’ Gwendoline Lamour and inspired by the ‘Muse of Burlesque’ Vicky Butterfly, she finds her ‘burlesque niche’ in a group number which acts out a few possible personas within classic striptease, and sees off her unsupportive ice skating rivals by dancing rings around them in her shiny new sailor girl outfit. The show was described as “an innovative combination of storytelling and burlesque performance [which] therefore sets itself apart from the traditional burlesque/cabaret show”, but (ignoring the fact that burlesque and storytelling are said to be previously mutually exclusive in this misleading statement) ice skating and striptease were not combined until the second half, and otherwise the show was essentially a series of skating routines on the ice and striptease numbers on stage. There was little cohesion or thread between numbers and segments of the show, and it was left to our host for the evening, Joe Morose, to explain the plot to us before occasional narrative-related routines.
Joe attempted to “drum up some atmosphere” in the Hall with paedophile jokes, profanity and tangential banter, and while he is a successfully whimsical, twisted presence in other productions, in this show he seemed at odds with the sexy, glamorous, fun atmosphere the performers were attempting to build and encourage. As the second half began to draw to a close, he appeared to abandon any attempt to interpret and sell the disconnected activity around him; there was a detectable air of apology, even embarrassment. He performed his musical numbers well and is always a memorable addition to any show, but he seemed miscast.
The overall quality of the ice skating was such that the novice burlesque skaters were difficult to distinguish from the professionals. As the principal professional skater, much of Hollie Deller‘s movement around the ice was laboured, and despite some successful scratch spins and sit spins there were a number of mistakes. There was little time to discover a fully-fleshed character to sympathise with or take interest in; her role was voiceless and she didn’t communicate sufficient emotion or personality beyond pantomime gestures and facial expressions.
The professional group dancers were largely unpolished and lacked purpose, tight synchronisation and charisma. Their thoughts appeared to be solely focused on getting the choreography right, rather than giving an expressive, engaging performance. Free leg positions were held fleetingly and lacked strength, and there were a couple of near collisions. The soundtrack included ice skating classic Bolero, and well-worn burlesque standards Fever, Feeling Good, Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend and Sing Sing Sing, but none of the performances matched the punch, drama and high energy they deliver. The two strongest group numbers came at the beginning and end of the second half; the finale was the most celebratory and upbeat, and made use of some stunning Isis wings combined with effective lighting, but it came too late to compensate for the overall lack of impact.
The synthetic ice skating rink was small which didn’t aid any of the skating issues; there was only so much room to build up speed and fluidity and the cast struggled for space in the larger group numbers. The skill, dedication and enthusiasm of the burlesque performers who took on the challenge of learning to ice skate in a matter of months was admirable and should be applauded, but for the most part the concentration required and the standard of skating, particularly from the professional skaters, impeded and distracted from the execution of striptease and other dance numbers.
Thank the showbiz gods for the dragtastic panache of the immaculately groomed, impossibly long-legged Miss Danni Dee. Executing effortless cartwheels and high kicks without a hair out of place, she closed the first half with a classic cabaret number which sparkled with finesse, humour and charisma. A born entertainer.
The standard of striptease also varied. Veteran burlesque performer Gwendoline Lamour hammed up her role as ‘Fairy Godmother of Burlesque’ suitably and with commitment, but her striptease solo was underwhelming. The pieces of her beautiful costume were simply and quickly removed and dropped (or in the case of her shoes, left to thud to the ground), and other than a brief, playful buildup to removing her gloves, nothing was really considered or toyed with.
Internationally respected artiste Vicky Butterfly made an appearance as the ‘Muse of Burlesque’. Ideal for the role, but looking distinctly out of place in a production of this standard, she provided an all too brief, dreamy interlude of sophistication, ethereal elegance and professionalism on stage, and was equally fluid and agile on the ice. Although she faltered twice, the mistakes were swiftly converted into graceful recovery manoeuvres: every inch the professional, even with an apparent lack of rehearsal. Burlesque newcomer Bonnie Fleur showed up the more experienced cast members by being the only other performer to really take her time with her removal and choreography, which a lot of new performers struggle to do, and making the most convincing attempt to seduce the audience. Bonnie is still finding her feet, but her instinctive natural talent for striptease makes her one to watch.
Jasz Vegas managed to stand out by putting more thought and creativity into her choreography and removal, but her energy didn’t quite match the force of her first track, Sinatra standard New York. In her second routine she took to the ice and was one of the most nimble and engaging skaters, which made it easier to focus on her characterisation and smoothly executed magic tricks. Ruby Deshabille also performed with confidence on the ice, skilfully skating backwards and removing her bra simultaneously, but as Lady Gaga’s Teeth pounded out of the speakers, stronger projection and intensity would have really sold the routine. At the risk of hammering home a repeated point in this review: if you choose a big-hitting soundtrack, you have to match it with equally show-stopping pizzazz and physicality.
Glorian Gray played a comedy stage kitten in the guise of an inebriated tiger, and later she performed in character on the ice. It was a committed routine, but the joke began to wear thin when it failed to go beyond her initial appearance. She clearly has a natural flair for comedy, but the character could have been taken further.
The top price ticket for Burlesque On Ice was, according to the BOI website, £60 (with a lowest, standing room price of £12). To put this into perspective: for the same money you can enjoy a sumptuous three course dinner and highly entertaining variety show at Cafe de Paris, or see Dita Von Teese, Dirty Martini, Catherine D’lish and Perle Noire on the same bill in Strip Strip Hooray! An audience shouldn’t be made to pay for high production costs if they aren’t given a consistently high quality, effectively structured, sufficiently rehearsed show to enjoy in return.
Burlesque On Ice is clearly a show inspired by genuine passion for burlesque, and involved actual burlesque performers and authentic striptease, but doesn’t add anything truly innovative, informative or substantial to the art form. Considerable development is needed to bring it up to scratch before a second outing.
Burlesque On Ice ran at Bush Hall in London, UK from 4th – 8th February 2014.
Reviewed by Holli-Mae Johnson.
Burlesque Hall of Fame / Miss Exotic World Judge, 2011 Holli Mae Johnson is the founder and editor of 21st Century Burlesque Magazine, a pioneering publication created twelve years ago to unite, document and celebrate the global burlesque community. Holli is actively involved in the burlesque community on a day to day basis and is privately consulted by performers and producers at every level for promotion, critique, recommendations and encouragement. As a documenter and critic, she has seen countless burlesque and variety performances from across the world and provides an intimate perspective and insight into the lives and careers of burlesque’s greatest pioneers, performers and personalities.